On not nodding to Black people

This morning my wife struggled with baggage at the airport. Of all days to arrive late, the day after Christmas was not the one. I was concerned about her but had been unable to enter the airport with her, so I called her to make sure she was OK. She has had severe pain in one knee and might have had a difficult time walking.

It was worse, I found out. They, the “airplane people”, made her take her bag on board instead of checking it and it was a little heavy for her. In addition, she was hurrying to get to her gate. She looked over and saw some Black skycaps and asked them for assistance. These guys totally took over and got her on her plane with no problem.

What do you make of this?

This is where the subtley comes in. There is a subtle interpersonal communication that goes on among Black people of U.S. origin, or at least among most. Back when I entered the Black community, when things were still segregated, it was in full force. Especially at institutions where Blacks were allowed but were still few in numbers, looking around for another “spot”, as they called themselves, was a natural move. I recently heard a wonderful presentation at ACTFL where a White teacher narrated her district’s success in attracting more Af-Am students into fl programs and esp into AP and other advanced courses. One of the obstacles for them was that they were characteristically the only Black kid in the class.

So one time she was invited, as the head of this program, to participate in a national homage to Asa Hillyard, who had recently passed away. I had heard Dr. Hillyard speak at an AABSEE (AZ Assoc. of Black School Educators) conference and so know how important his work had been to

the promotion of culturally relevant education of Black youth. She told us how she put them, she demurred, and then outright refused. Her real reason, she confided to us, was her fear of being the only White person in this procession and, moreover, she was to dress in the kente cloth-tinged fashion prevalent among Af-Am professionals at formal academic events. She was TERRIFIED. Hilarious …….. well, hilarious if you know Black people

Her courage in sharing this was close to breath-taking; I’ve known few Whites willing to admit to their feelings of intimidation when alone among Blacks. Yet she went so much further! She had an epiphany – THIS IS HOW HER BLACK STUDENTS FELT WHEN ASKED TO BE THE ONLY BLACK KID IN A CLASS OTHERWISE WHITE!

How many times my wife, who was chosen in 1969 to integrate White high schools in Phoenix, has said she is so tired of hearing Whites talk about how “scared” they were to find themselves the only ONE among all those Black people. (This is different from the self-confession I referred to above as rare – in this latter case the people are regaling others with tales of derring-do while in the former they are revealing their own sense of differentness i.e. prejudice and discrimination). She relates to them how she is ALWAYS the only Black at meetings, many conferences, work teams, classes, etc. Recently, she’s been know to yell out, “Yes, I’m voting for a Black president. I’ve been voting for White people my whole life. Is it OK if for once I vote for a Black person?”

So this brings me to this nodding thing. It’s an acknowledgement, a kind of “I see you, Brother, and I’ve got your back in this hostile environment.” Natural? Not at all. Blacks have routinely been pitted against one another by Whites seeking to control them. Betrayal is all too common. That is why Blacks who do not acknowledge you are seen as Uncle Toms or Thomasinas trying to show The Man how unblack they are, how the White man can rely on them not to ally with other Blacks.

IMHO, this goes back to the desperate measures of White slave holders to control the often overwhelming numbers of slaves. Divide and keep in submission. it gets real complicated and I have personal stories to tell but won’t here just now. What I want people to understand is that with the influx of Blacks from outside the U.S., there will be misunderstandings. Older Blacks esp will be highly suspicious of the young Black who things constantly nodding to other Blacks is ridiculous and just perpetuating old thinking. Please do not join in that nonsense. Recognize that the need for what was once called racial solidarity is still there. There are many Black professionals and other working people in situations where they are vulnerable. And by no means take up the mantra that White people are no longer prejudiced or that it’s only old people who are now. I guess it helps to be White working-class and to have moved into the Black community when so much was still segregated. From my perspective, even I nod to Blacks as a sign of solidarity, saying, “Yea! You probably don’t need it, but I’ve got your back anyway.” I just don’t add, “Bro”.

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